Making cement, the project way





“We're a project-based company that happens to make cement.” This insightful declaration popped up in a series of interviews I conducted in continuous process industries. The manager's quip symbolizes the foothold that enterprisewide project management has gained among executives, even in the non-stop world of continuous processes. It highlights how the nature of work within organizations, even old-fashioned ones, is undergoing major upheaval as more projects have to be done faster, cheaper and better.

Not all people, however, see things the same way. When I mentioned the client's gung-ho attitude to a consultant friend, he skeptically asked, “Why enterprise project management for a cement company?” Other executives I talked to shared the same view, seeing the company as a cement producer caught up in a managerial mix-master because of “changing times.” Most perceived the relevance of project management as a viable solution for adapting to the topsy-turvy times but failed to see that the nature of work was not going to change back.

The new reality calls for a fresh slant at pumping out more quality product with increased efficiency. Processes have to be steadily upgraded for companies to remain competitive in the marketplace. When commodities like cement are the primary product, then projects aimed at increasing organizational and operational efficiency are particularly critical.

Although in-place processes are responsible for churning out product and generating income, new projects aimed at modernizing aging operations and new ventures ultimately spell out a company's survival probabilities. So, while ongoing processes are the linchpins of today's success, that success will perpetuate itself only through newly launched projects. How then can a process-oriented industry keep its wheels continuously turning and at the same time move toward a more projectized business approach?

First, there has to be a genuine clamor for making such a move. The company's project portfolio must be brimming over with projects that impact the company's bottom line. Strong sponsorship from the top also is a must—the chief executive officer or other clout-wielding top executive has to take on the program and push it through to full implementation.

What about the program itself? What should it include? The sustaining pillars for putting enterprise project management into a continuous process setting are project methodology, professional skills development and organizational adequacy. Systems and behavioral issues also are important factors. Yet the degree of change required in the organization depends on the company's starting point in terms of project culture.

Different Companies, Different Slants

For some companies, the move to enterprisewide project management may involve some adjustments and fine-tuning. Such is the case for project-based organizations like building contractors or software developers whose final products are projects (a completed building or a new software package). Typically these companies perform their for-client projects well, yet need to practice project management more effectively on in-house projects.

Large functional organizations, such as manufacturers of consumer products, also possess project management competence in specific areas: engineering, information technology and new product development. Again, the project management culture typically is not spread enterprisewide, but rather resides on islands in a larger archipelago of company activities. Therefore, even in companies that have reasonable project competency in given areas, additional effort is required to put the entire company under an enterprisewide project canopy.

The pendulum swing toward enterprisewide project management should be much more dramatic in the case of continuous process industries—at least in theory. That was indeed true when technology change was slow and capital expansion and operational upgrades happened at a snail's pace. These days, with the implementation of ambitious quality improvement programs, spurred forward by quantitative methodologies like Six Sigma, many continuous process organizations have more project competence in-house than they suspect.

Here is an approach used to outline the work packages required to design and implement enterprise project management in a continuous process situation:

Project Coordination. The enterprise project management program needs a focal point and requires coordination. A project sponsor and project manager are required.

Situation Survey, Validation and Creating Awareness. For starters, an assessment in project management is needed to create a baseline and basis for determining what needs to be done. Then, a strategic approach requires validation, and awareness has to be created across the organization.

Development of Project Management Methodology. This includes mapping existing processes, developing workflow and documentation standards, software applications and system adaptation.

Training and Development. A project management culture must be built and cultivated. This may involve training in the basics of project management, preparation for Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, and hands-on training in the use of methodologies and tools. Team-building and behavioral themes also may be required.

Support for Corporate and Area Project Management Offices. This requires articulating to the rest of the organization the project office role in the various forms it may take within the organization.

On-the-Job Facilitation. Hands-on planning and facilitation in project start-up are part of on-the-job facilitation. Coaching both at an executive and project level also may be required.

Because times have changed, all companies have to adapt to new settings and learn how to do projects more effectively. Communications challenges, shareholder demands and changing professional profiles all are part of the kaleidoscope that makes up today's world. Some of the basic business parameters have changed. Paradoxically one of the key success factors in the continuous process industry (which theoretically goes on indefinitely) is to have in place highly effective management of finite projects. PM

Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, PMI Fellow, authored nine books including Winning in Business with Enterprise Project Management [Amacom, 1998]. His new co-authored book Creating the Project Office: A Manager's Guide to Leading Organization Change was released in February 2003. He is president of Dinsmore Associates, with world headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.




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